Linda Lewis Griffith

Why Americans over 50 are getting divorced in record numbers

The Kansas City Star

Aging baby boomers are getting divorced in record numbers. Americans older than 50 are twice as likely to untie the knot as their contemporaries were 20 years ago.

One of three boomers will face older age unmarried, says Susan Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University and author of the study, “The Gray Divorce Revolution.”

Wives initiate the divorce 66 percent of the time, and husbands 41 percent of the time, according to a 2004 AARP study titled, “The Divorce Experience: A Study of Divorce at Midlife and Beyond.” Twenty-two percent of the participants divorced when they were in their 50s. Four percent divorced in their 60s or later.

There are lots of reasons for this phenomenon. Couples are living longer and healthier lives. Once their parenting responsibilities have lapsed, many find they have little in common with their long-term partners and even less motivation to stay in an unhappy union.

The arrival of nitrate-based anti-impotence drugs, such as Viagra, Levitra and Cialis, makes infidelity a tantalizing option. Boomers have a long history of getting what they want and tossing aside social norms to achieve it. Additionally, women have more financial assets and are no longer forced to choose between misery and poverty.

This doesn’t mean graying divorce doesn’t come with risks. According to WebMD, the rate of sexually transmitted diseases has more than doubled among the elderly over the past decade and may be directly linked to the use of erectile dysfunction medication and continued sexual activity.

Boomers also face issues that come when two people of any age call it quits: uncertain future, loss of a caregiver, financial losses and moving to a new home.

Then there are the kids. Even if adult children fully understand the reasons for the breakup, they may feel conflicted and forced to take sides. Many rightfully worry about their parents’ well-being. Yet grieving about the family’s dissolution may take energy needed for their jobs, relationships and households. So they’re forced to process the events quietly by themselves.

Linda Lewis Griffith’s column is special to The Tribune. She is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit www.lindalewisgriffith.com.

Take these steps to minimize stress during your divorce

  • Be patient. You’ve been involved in this marriage for several decades. Allow yourself ample time to deconstruct it.
  • Take care of your emotional needs. Seek out friends and family members who can be your allies. Consider finding a therapist or joining a support group.
  • Work together. Don’t squander resources by being unnecessarily contentious. A mediator will guide you through the process and minimize hostility.
  • Be sensitive about your kids. Avoid burdening adult children with your problems. Discuss pleasant, neutral topics when you talk with them. Never berate the other parent.
  • Rethink your spending habits. Your finances will assume a new look. Money may be tighter than it was before. Make a budget and live within your means.
  • Focus on your future. You may be sad about the loss of your marriage. But you can build a new life that is full of joy.
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